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chamber music

chamber music

chamber music, ensemble music for small groups of instruments, with only one player to each part. Its essence is individual treatment of parts and the exclusion of virtuosic elements. Originally played by amateurs in courts and aristocratic circles, it began to be performed by professionals only in the 19th cent. with the rise of the concert hall. In the broadest sense it existed as early as the Middle Ages. The ricercare and the concerted canzone of the 16th cent. are properly chamber music, although unlike later forms they were not for specific instruments but were usually performed by voices and whatever instruments were at hand. During the baroque period the chief type was the trio sonata. About 1750 the string quartet with its related types—trio, quintet, sextet, septet, and octet—arose. As developed by Haydn and Mozart the quartet became the principal chamber-music form. It was used by Beethoven and Schubert, whose quartets are the last of the classical period, and by the chief composers of the romantic period—Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Dvořák, Franck, d'Indy, and Reger. In the early 20th cent. the coloristic possibilities of the quartet were exploited by Debussy and Ravel. More recently the different forms of chamber music have been used extensively for experiments in atonality, percussive rhythms, and serial techniques by such composers as Schoenberg, Bartók, Webern, Berg, Stravinsky, Sessions, and Piston.

See D. F. Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis: Chamber Music (1944, 4th impression 1956); W. W. Cobbett, ed., Cyclopedic Survey of Chamber Music (3 vol., 2d ed. 1963, repr. 1987); H. E. Ulrich, Chamber Music (2d ed. 1966); M. Berger, Guide to Chamber Music (1985).

Music composed for small instrumental ensembles and performed without a conductor. Traditionally intended for performance in a room or reception hall, often solely for the performers' own pleasure, chamber music is now often heard in concert halls. It began with the 16th-century instrumental consort, and long continued to be associated with aristocratic households. The duo sonata (usually for violin and continuo) and trio sonata appeared in early 17th-century Italy. The string quartet arose in the 1750s and remains the best-known chamber genre and ensemble. The serenade, nocturne, and divertimento were Classical genres for varying instrumental forces, often intended to accompany meals and other activities. Standard ensembles include the string trio (violin, viola, cello), string quintet (two violins, two violas, cello), and piano trio (piano, violin, cello). The chamber orchestra, usually with fewer than 25 musicians, is often used for 18th-century music and usually requires a conductor. Seealso sonata.

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